On Monday, Sporting Kansas City and Nashville SC executed a peak MLS trade. Sporting KC sent a 2023 and a 2024 international roster spot, of which teams only get eight, to Nashville in exchange for $270,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM).
On the surface, it seems pretty boring. But moves like this often have wider implications. Let’s discuss how GAM can be used, if it was good value, and what it means for the future.
GAM, what is it Good For?
General Allocation Money, or GAM, is an MLS invented mechanism used to buy down a player’s salary. Without getting too deep into the weeds, MLS has a salary budget (not a hard cap) of $5,210,000 in 2023 (it’ll be 2024 when they get the GAM, and the budget rises to $5,470,000). However, Sporting KC have $15,454,335 in players’ salaries on the books in 2023. Mechanisms like GAM, TAM (Targeted Allocation Money), Designated Players and U-22 slots, allow for that additional spending.
In short, this gives Sporting KC more money, in 2024, to spend on salaries.
Is this Trade a ‘Win’ for Sporting KC?
This is the third international roster spot that Sporting KC have traded in 2023. They traded one back in January to the Columbus Crew for $190,000, another in February to LAFC for $150,000 and now this one. Those prior two deals, say a full season of an international roster spot is worth, on average, $170,000.
$170,000 times one and a half seasons is $255,000, so SKC got a little more than that. Nashville can’t really make use of that international slot until the secondary transfer window opens in July, so it seems they paid a bit more to secure one now, knowing they are likely making a swing for a big DP striker in the summer. That “overpay” is so minor, it’ll be worth it for them if they win.
There is something to be said for Sporting KC sending away this slot now, because as the window gets closer to closing, international spots are borderline worthless as you can no longer get players into the country in most instances.
Despite that, I’d hardly call that a ‘win’ for Sporting KC, as there is another part to the equation. Sporting Kansas City are out of international roster spots. They traded three of them, and the other five are occupied by guys currently on the roster (Dany Rosero, Robert Voloder, Willy Agada, Tim Leibold and Nemanja Radoja).
What Does this Mean for the Future?
It would seem no international signings are coming in 2023 unless Sporting KC is either trading to get another international spot (this seems very unlikely) or offloading someone in an international spot. The five players above, are all on contracts that at least include options beyond this year, with most of them on guaranteed deals (only Willy Agada can be moved on from easily after the season, and that won’t happen).
It always felt like most of the money had been spent, so if Sporting KC have no money left to make any big additions anyways, selling the international roster spot is just good business. Due to a lack of transparency from the league, we can’t be certain how much budgetary space was remaining.
As far as already being down to seven of a possible eight slots for 2024, I’m guessing it’s not a concern. Peter Vermes and company seem to have the green card process incredibly streamlined now that COVID is over. The team got five green cards before this season started (Fontas, Kinda, Ndenbe, Tzionis and Thommy), of which, three of those joined the team last season. I suspect they are well on their way to more green cards (if they haven’t already) for the five players currently occupying spots, which will free up room for next season.
I also think this makes moving on from Alan Pulido extremely unlikely. It already felt like it probably wasn’t going to happen with that rumored $2 million asking price. Now with no ability to add an international, DP striker, to replace Pulido (he already has a green card, so he wouldn’t free a spot), it’s hard to see the team moving forward with Khiry Shelton, rookie Stephen Afrifa and the injured Willy Agada at the striker position. If the $2 million offer is real (which I seriously doubt), then they probably have to consider it, but I’m not holding my breathe.
Sporting KC have given themselves slightly less flexibility in 2023 to bank some “Garber Bucks” for 2024. It feels like good business, since they likely don’t have the budget space to make a splash signing anyways, at least not without the sale of someone like Pulido.